May 1, 2017

Channel Surfing: American Gods - "The Bone Orchard"

Scene from American Gods
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
While 2017 is little under halfway through, it may as well be considered the year that weird TV became acceptable. It's not just weird in the sense of campy melodrama, but in the way that fantasy and sci-fi can alter dimensions and reflect a more cerebral vision. Earlier this year featured the literal mind-bending Legion, which pushed the boundaries of superhero culture with episodes featuring long silent film/Tim Burton mash-up motifs. It was wonderfully assured in ways that make it hard to not see any show that will test the limits of special effects budgets and abstract plot devices avoid comparison. Later this year will mark the premiere weird show Twin Peaks' return to TV. For now, there's American Gods: which if nothing else had one of the most audacious, explicit, and curious first episodes of any show this year.
Of course, that's exactly what to expect from a Neil Gaiman adaptation. In a complex plot, the central cast features characters updated from mythology to fit a contemporary landscape. These are generally gods found in Norse mythology, such as Mr. Wednesday (Ian MacShane) being a version of Odin. Still, this isn't just a world where people have coincidental characteristics. The show actually is profane and doesn't waste time pitting these characters into a neo-noir landscape where corruption is power, and the gods have the ability to control whatever they want. By the episode's end, a character is sent through time travel merely for disagreeing. The stakes are high, the world is weird, and that's only the first hour.
It should be noted that the world in question has the added benefit of being on Starz: a network not bound to censorship. Because of this, the series is allowed to be unapologetic in its perverse nature, even featuring a demonic sex scene that is if nothing else scarring. The episode also features MacShane doing his best Al Swearengen impression as he curses his way through life on a private jet while helping a recently released inmate. Legion would love to have the liberties that this show has, though it's not entirely clear if American Gods is necessarily better for these freedoms. Over the course of the first episode, it does get a little excessive and may be more reliant on the style than what lies underneath.
For a pilot episode however, it has everything to allure the audience. There's very little like it on TV, and it's likely only going to get weirder as time goes on. The fact that a character appears in a cartoonish limo in a reverse-TRON fashion should tell you how out there the show will be. The creepiness is a tad funny, and it has the assurance to lead to something greater. Even then, the viewer comes away more enticed by the visuals than any of the actual story. There's plenty to love about the set design here, possibly the best since Westworld. There's also great trick photography. It isn't clear yet what the show will look like, but its mixed bag of a first episode is largely successful in getting the point across, and it does so beautifully.
American Gods, if nothing else, may be on Starz's more high profile side. Having had few runaway successes, it wouldn't be surprising if the network eventually makes this like their own Game of Thrones. There's plenty of fascinating material to explore, and there's chances for weekly episodes to drop some of the craziest moments currently on network TV. That's the beauty of having the budget to make Gaiman's vision come to life. It looks the part and has plenty to offer in weirdness, but will it amount to much more than that? Legion proved it was possible. American Gods has arguably a better source material, so the odds are that it should be, if nothing else, the funnest show on TV over the next few weeks. 

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